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5/10
Visually Spectacular With Disappointing Casting And Script
30 July 2017
There are so many good elements to this movie that listing only them would make it sound like the movie of the year. Unfortunately, there were plenty of disappointing elements as well.

As the trailers indicated, Valerian is visually spectacular. Stunning even. The colors, sets, props, costumes, makeup, and world-building are all well above par. The opening credits scene, which succinctly shows the story of the space city, was powerfully and imaginatively shown. Throughout the film, new locales are expertly unveiled, and action scenes unfold like eye candy. I didn't notice music, or lack thereof, which is in my opinion perfect. (Exception: I noticed the opening music track, but in a good way.)

But very early, as soon as we're introduced to the two main characters, I felt something was off. I soon decided it was casting. Dane DeHaan (whom I loved in "Two Lovers And A Bear") simply was not believable as a super-soldier nor as a man with a string of romantic conquests. He both appeared and presented as an adolescent rather than a battle-hardened major. Cara Delevingne played better, but often went dead-faced when it wasn't appropriate (yet it served her well in "Suicide Squad").

Both characters had lines that didn't seem to fit what we'd been told about them, and very often didn't fit with the lines that came immediately before and after them, almost as if someone cut the script into individual lines and shuffled them. The character arcs seemed non-existent most of the time, but then would jump at the oddest moments, giving an unnatural feel to these two main characters.

The script had other problems as well. For example, quite a bit of dialog was used to describe what was visually apparent -- almost as if whoever was in charge of the lines did not know what would be visible on screen, or vice versa. It came across as condescending to watch a visual explanation of something and then have a character explain it verbally too.

One final complaint: The film had several instances of a common problem with both sci-fi and superhero movies: introducing a power or technology and then either forgetting it exists or immediately introducing something else to countermand it. Valerian seemed to introduce a hundred futuristic devices, discoveries, and technologies, all of which would be interesting to explore, but they were mostly ignored or simply used as a prop for a single scene. (Besson's "Fifth Element" had this irritating issue as well.) So many of them could have made this movie incredible if they'd been introduced with the intent of bringing them back later as part of the climax; instead they became throwaway comedic devices.
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2/10
Disappointingly Preachy And Anachronistic
16 July 2016
Having selected the movie because of an interest in "alternate history", I wasn't prepared for the preachy religious nature of the film, nor the anachronistic technology -- which wasn't explained, by the way. I'm accustomed to nearly every movie mentioning religion or God occasionally; it's something people think about, so okay. But Beyond The Mask was fraught with Christianity's "salvation" message, something that wasn't mentioned in any online description I'd read beforehand. On a somewhat-related note, there was also a surprising amount of violence for a PG film, though little of it was bloody/gory. It didn't help that the writing seemed sub-par -- perhaps because it had to be bent around the "come to God" theme and to make sure religious viewers weren't offended in any way. In places, the actors were impressive, but most of the time the acting seemed wooden.
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8/10
Better Than I Expected
3 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Written by, directed by, and starring British comedian Ricky Gervais, this film has a simple premise, as detailed in the previews: No one in the world has ever lied, until now.

Gervais' character, Mark Bellison, apparently has a misfiring synapse when he lies for the first time, and it surprises him as much as it would anybody. But once he realizes the import of what he's done, he keeps doing it, trying to use his powers for good, with some hilarious (and some disastrous) results.

I wondered about the premise before seeing the movie. What would the "ban" on lying include? As it turns out, the authors went whole hog. When they say no one's ever lied in this world, they mean *in any way*. No fictional stories, no lies by omission, no intentional deceit, and no religion. Basically the rule on this imaginary world has always been: you can't say anything that *isn't*. No one's ever thought of doing such a thing. So, if two people tell you two different things, then one of them is mistaken.

The story starts of hilariously, with Gervais' and Jennifer Garner's characters meeting for a date. She's hot, and he's dumpy. They waste no time telling each other this, in all honesty, including their doubts and worries about the date. Flattery doesn't exist, because it's a form of lying. Keeping silent to spare someone's feelings is also lying, and so has never been done.

Think of all the things that wouldn't exist if no one had ever said anything that wasn't true... For instance, words like true, untrue, belief, unbelievable, fiction, lying, etc. -- none of those words can exist. There are no churches, no novels. All movies are historical or documentary. All news shows only tell the truth.

When Bellison suddenly realizes he can say things that don't agree with reality, he quickly learns what power that holds, both for good and evil. He can walk into a bank and tell them he has quite a bit of money in his bank account -- they'll assume their computers have made a mistake.

In the course of the story, Bellison learns how to make people feel better about themselves by telling little white lies. He invents fictional movies, and later religion. Religion came naturally, because everyone was scared of the nothingness that comes after death. He assured them that good things would follow death, at least for good people.

Religious people are unlikely to enjoy the movie, since it gets to the heart of why most early religions were started -- to cure that fear of life and fear of the unknown after death (besides the ability to control large groups of people).

But it's well-thought out and well-executed in this movie. The funny parts are really funny, and the sad parts are really sad. There's really no great cinematography though, no reason to see it on the big screen. Wait for it on DVD.
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Hard Boiled (1992)
9/10
High-Octane Action
15 June 2009
As a late-comer to this movie, I guess I didn't know what to expect. I thought it would be slow and drawn out like so many older action movies were. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the high-octane shoot-em-up scenes, as well as the quips and one-liners the characters throw at each other. While some of the dialog is stilted, most of the writing is concise and to the point -- just enough to tell you the story without being boring. The action scenes are among the best I've ever seen. I only wish I'd seen it earlier. It's easy to see from Hard Boiled how Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo became such big international stars, but it's obviously been difficult for either of them to top this film.
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Hell's Angels (1930)
8/10
Amazing War Film
19 April 2009
While I've seen a lot of war movies, including most of the WWII-era films, I don't think I've been impressed by any of them like I was with Hell's Angels.

The staged and choreographed aerial battles are amazing to watch, and even more astounding when one considers how they were filmed, and the technology available at the time.

Other than the aerial dogfights, little of the movie holds up to today's standards of film-making, but is impressive considering the standards of the day. I challenge any viewer to watch Hell's Angels back-to-back with contemporary films (late 1920s) and not come away amazed.
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